You shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one. -Marjora Carter
I didn’t grow up in Cleveland, and I wasn’t born in 1966 when riots took place in a community that was once prosperous. My only impressions of the Hough neighborhood, just five minutes away from my children’s school near the CSU campus, have come from the tone of voice and facial expressions used when it comes up in conversation. So when I found myself standing in line next to Mansfield Frazier at an event earlier this month, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about the neighborhood he calls home.
Last Sunday, the Plain Dealer ran an impressive, ten-page series of articles in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Hough riots. It was like a Cliff’s Notes gift to me, as I was already scheduled to meet with Mr. Frazier the following Tuesday for a tour of his innovative, urban renewal program, The Vineyards of Chateau Hough. I was planning to write about their upcoming fundraiser and after reading all of the Plain Dealer articles, I felt slightly more educated going into the tour.
Except nothing could have prepared me for what it meant to spend an hour with my children getting to know the real Hough neighborhood directly from someone who lived through the civil rights movement and has dedicated his life’s work to the belief that “you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one.” (Marjora Carter)
Mr. Frazier lives directly across the street from the vineyards, in the kind of beautiful home you expect to see in outlying suburbs like Bratenahl. I make this comparison only because as we were driving through the neighborhood, my ten-year-old son exclaimed from the back seat, “Wow! That house looks like the mansions in Bratenahl.”
At my request, after a brief history lesson, Mansfield shared his thoughts on the current political and racial climate in comparison to events of the 1950’s and 60’s. “Things might get worse,” he said, “before they get better.” But he was quick to point out that people living in Hough are tired of being defined by something that happened fifty years ago. “We need to start talking about the next fifty years.”
For me, the greatest lesson is that the Hough neighborhood is not a community anyone needs to avoid or feel bad for, much less “save” from their impoverished, crime-ridden legacy. People have been building beautiful homes and investing in this community for over twenty years, but that’s not the story mainstream media tells us. Nor is it the image of inner-city Cleveland that outsiders tend to focus on. These streets are home to many genuine caring, engaged citizens, survivors and innovators – who need our support, partnership and respect – not our uneducated opinions or pity. The real solutions to any city’s greatest challenges lie within the people who know those struggles most intimately. Cleveland is no different.
When I asked my sons what they took away from our time with Mr. Frazier, they both said, “I can’t believe they didn’t show pictures of those nice houses in the newspaper when they talk about where he lives.” And so that is the story we decided to help tell.